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Grandpa was a Confederate Marine

usmcemblemTo say that we are a Marine family is a bit of an understatement. Our family is and has been Marine for over a century and a half. Our Great-great grandfather served proudly in the Confederate States Marine Corps (CSMC) during the late unpleasantness with the Yankee government. A proper explanation of this will be a good start to this story of our family’s pride in the Corps.

The revelation of our Confederate Marine came when I was working with a cousin on a book he was writing about our ancestors during the War For Southern Independence. He lives near Montgomery, Alabama, and we lived in Metter, Georgia at the time. We decided we would meet at the Troup County (LaGrange) Archives and do some research while editing the manuscript for the book.

For some time my wife and I had been searching the archive records at the Georgia State Archive, the Alabama State Archive, the South Carolina State Archive, the Statesboro Public Library and the Ladson Library & Archive in Vidalia. She had energetically searched for some indication of her great, great grandfather’s service in the Confederacy. To learn that he had not fought for the South would have been a great let down for her. She had searched every record and roster of the Confederate Army that she could find and hadn’t found any evidence that he had served in the Confederate Army. She had about concluded that he must have been a carpetbagger or scalawag. The reason for this conclusion was that the census records showed that he owned 836 acres of land in Gwinnett County, Georgia right after the war. Could her ancestor have been a Yankee transplant who came to Georgia in order to take advantage of the poor, beaten Southern people during the Yankee occupation called the Reconstruction? We both hoped against hope that was not the case.

While my cousin and I were working on the manuscript that day in the Troup County Archive, my wife had been browsing through a record book of Confederate Widow’s Pensions. She looked through the names, listed alphabetically by last name, for her great, great grandmother’s name. There it was! Priscilla Holman was the widow of William Washington Holman who served in the CSMC. She turned to me and asked, “Jim, what does CSMC stand for?” “Why, that stands for The Confederate States Marine Corps”, I said. We both were taken aback with this revelation. Finally, she had found her ancestor’s Confederate record. He was not listed in the Confederate Army because he wasn’t a soldier, he was a Marine; a Confederate Marine! Hallelujah! We couldn’t believe it. What a double relief that was; first to learn that he was NOT a Yankee and then to learn that he was a Marine for his beloved Southland. Glory be, that was good news!

Just learning that he was in the CSMC gave her a new lead in which to look, so off she went on a new exploration to learn as much about her Marine ancestor as she could. Her search took us back to the Georgia State Archive, and the Statesboro Public Library in Statesboro, Georgia. Amazingly, we found more records of the Confederate States Marine Corps in the Statesboro Library than anywhere else. They had a roster of all the Confederate Marines listed with their rank, service location, and other pertinent information to the Marine.

Here’s what all she learned about him specifically, and the Confederate Marine Corps in general. There was a contingent of Marines stationed at New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, and Drewry’s Bluff, VA. During the war years there were only about 600 to 800 Marines in the whole Confederacy, depending on the particular time. So, to have an ancestor who served in the Confederate Marine Corps is indeed a rare incident. There are, no doubt, a lot of people walking around today who are descendants of Confederate Marines but are not aware of their ancestor’s service in the elite corps.

The history of the Confederate States Marine Corps is almost the history of the Confederacy itself. Founded by former United States Marine Corps officers, the efforts of this small select group in combat and in garrison reflect the coastal and maritime struggles of the Confederate States as a whole. In 1861 Confederate Naval Commodore Josiah Tattnall was endeavoring to assemble some semblance of a naval squadron in the Savannah River to cover the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Tattnall’s naval efforts were strengthened by the arrival of Marine Captain George Holmes’ Company A, from Pensacola, Florida.

William Washington Holman, was a native of Gwinnett County, Georgia when the war for Southern independence commenced. From what we have been able to learn, he went to Decatur, one of the Marine conscript camps, and caught a train to Savannah where he enlisted in Company E of the Confederate Marines.

css-savannahLieutenant Henry L. Graves reported in Savannah from Drewry’s Bluff on February 2, 1863, for service on board the newly built ironclad, CSS Savannah. Upon reporting, he found that his first job would be to recruit a Marine Guard. He found only some 12 or 13 men available on the station with a requirement of 35 to 40 or more. Graves visited the various conscript camps and enlisted draftees for Marine Corps duty. This was apparently the source of the numerous enlistments reported on the muster rolls of Company E as being made by Lieutenant Graves at Decatur, Georgia. We therefore, conclude that this is the reason William Washington Holman was conscripted into the Confederate States Marine Corps and was sent to Savannah. He was one of the Marines that Commodore Tattnall needed to round out his contingency of Marines serving in the Savannah Squadron along the Southeastern coastal waters.

The designation of the Marines at Savannah as a “Marine Guard” was replaced by the designation of “Company E” in the spring of 1863. In May of 1863, the men of Company E were placed in a new barracks called Fair Lawn, which was described as “a beautiful place in the outskirts of the city”. The barracks were surrounded by a large grove of old oaks and hickory trees all covered with Spanish moss. Marine Captain, John R.F. Tattnall, the son of Commodore Josiah Tattnall, was making efforts in April to provide field music for his new Company E, and ran the following advertisement in the local Savannah paper:

C.S. Marine Barracks
April 18, 1863
For Company E, Confederate States Marines; four musicians – two drummers and two fifers. Apply for further particulars at the naval office on Liberty Street, between Bull and Whitaker.
J.R.F. Tattnall
Captain C.S. Marines, Commanding

Eventually, Private William Washington Holman would be assigned to the ironclad, CSS Savannah, built in the port of Savannah and commissioned to be used in defense of the coastal waters. She would see much action and would be instrumental in capturing a Yankee vessel, the USS Water Witch. On the afternoon of May 31, 1864, 15 officers and 117 men from the Savannah Squadron (mainly from the CSS Savannah) left Savannah going downstream in seven boats under the command of Lt. Thomas Pelot, C.S.N. The men finally reached Racoon Key on the night of June 3, and the decision was made to make a night attack on a Federal vessel lying in Ossabaw Sound. After midnight of a dark and rainy night, the boats approached the ship, which turned out to be the USS Water Witch. Although challenged and fired upon, the Confederates managed to board her, and after a sharp fight of some 10 minutes, captured her. The attack cost the life of Lt. Pelot and four men. Three officers and ten men were wounded in the battle.

On December 21, 1864 the CSS Savannah was fired by the Confederates as Sherman’s army approached the outskirts of Savannah. She went down in the Ogeechee River channel near Savannah as the officers and members of the crew marched overland about eighteen miles to Hardeeville, SC. As far as I know, she still lies on the muddy bottom of the Ogeechee River.

A platoon of Marines of Company E served a short time on board the CSS Macon as she went upstream from Savannah to Augusta. Some of those Marines were assigned to Shell Bluff manning a 68 pounder 8 inch Columbiad, and was assigned to defend the river against ascending Federal gunboats.

css-sav-replicaWhen my wife learned that her ancestor had served on the CSS Savannah, we set out to find out what the ship looked like and some details about her. While surfing the Internet one night, we found a model of the ship that was hand made by a gentleman in Sydney, Australia who was a former member of the Australian Navy. He had a hobby of building exact replicas of any kind of ship or aircraft past or present. I was able to contact him via email to make some inquiries. I was impressed with his work and he was impressed with the fact that an actual descendant of a real Confederate Marine was contacting him. To make a long story short, he agreed to build an exact replica of the CSS Savannah as a gift for my wife. I commissioned him to do just that and he built a beautiful 24 inch replica of that great Southern fighting lady built and commissioned right there in the port of Savannah. She was a great vessel and we are proud that one of our ancestors was privileged to serve aboard her in the Confederate States Marine Corps. Whether CSMC or USMC, we are proud of our family’s Marine Corps heritage.

Semper Fi,
Jim Hethcox

hisservant Jim's America, Jim's Journal

  1. Dot R Nix
    May 9th, 2009 at 17:28 | #1

    Enjoyed your artical. Very Interesting. Keep up the good articals. I will be looking for your next work.

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